Albert Bonniers förlag, 2013.
Reviewed by Anna Paterson in SBR 2014:1
Review Section: Fiction, Light-Hearted and More Serious
The Bible is a literary honeypot, an inspiration for many if also a trap for some. Niklas Rådström was inspired enough to take on the task of re-scripting Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelations.
Was he trapped in a hubristic fantasy? Early on, Rådström himself seemed to think so, but ever since his five-hourlong dramatisation of the Bible played to enthusiastic audiences two years ago, a chorus of critics has sung his praises. Boken is an extraordinarily rich novel that extends and elaborates the ideas of the stage play. In his Afterword, the author speaks modestly of ‘a decade of pondering on the Biblical texts’.
Rådström’s God does not rule from on high, but is the Writer of the world and, like all writers, wonders at the way his creation tends to slip out of control. He has grand visions, but is excitable, fallible and aware of his faults.
It is a wonderful idea that offers an absurdly plausible explanation of the grandeur and success of his creation as well as of its endless plot snarl-ups and occasional grievous errors. When God eventually becomes involved as the Protagonist of his own narrative, the dramatic tension of this tale of divine and human confrontations is heightened, as is its inherent humour.
Long before God’s participation in his story, he had dispatched the three Archangels to act as his representatives. They stalk creation like magical journalists, observing, interviewing and taking notes of the activities of the world’s prophets and rulers, but also those of its powerless masses. Humanity is embodied in the Man and the Woman who are destined to wander, eternal, rootless and unnamed, as asylum-seekers among the multitudes. They were made stateless once God for the first time lost his grip on the storyline and threw them out of Eden for having tasted the fruits of the tree of knowledge.
The Old Testament comes alive in a fairly familiar sequence, but the timeline of the New Testament stories has been restructured. There are many examples of famous passages rewritten in Rådström’s high-toned but very readable language, allusive, vivid and lyrical – it has been called ‘enhanced’ – the memorable stories of Job and of Jesus rescuing his storm-driven apostles are just two of them.
Of course, this is an enterprise beset with problems and Rådström has not solved them all. Boken– like its great precursor – is a volume to dip into: it can read enthrallingly well but, at other times, the storytelling can be uneven and moralistic.
Outside Sweden, Niklas Rådström is relatively unknown, despite the stunning breadth of his writing and precise sense of what makes language grip and entice the reader. His imagination shifts between deep seriousness and delighted play. Like God’s, it would seem. In one setpiece, God walks out into his now wild Garden to pick up a lifeless greenfinch. Mysteriously, the tiny bird comes alive again and God, feeling happier, goes back to his writing. Rådström, author of an elegant little volume about how he rescued a baby bluetit, is not far away.